Although there’s no denying that private car ownership has its conveniences, it’s also completely stupid. Cars are noisy. They’re incredibly dangerous. They produce polluting elements including ozone, particulate matter, and other smog-forming emissions into the atmosphere. People are becoming increasingly lazy, opting to drive short distances when they could easily walk or bike. They take up an obnoxious amount of land use. They’re a status symbol that we’ve bought into being a necessity through not just decades of marketing and advertising, but also by the fact that our transportation infrastructure has prioritized it over other methods of transportation. Driving brings our the worst types of behavior in people. These so-called conveniences are signs of deeper problems. Spoiler: this whole post is a car rant and yes I currently own a car and yes I’m a hypocrite and acknowledge the cognitive dissonance.
Cars are perceived as a symbol of freedom, but they are a burden like no other. Think of the financial costs of car ownership alone. Most people do not buy a car outright, rather they get an auto loan or will lease it for a certain amount of time, and therefore burdened with a monthly car payment for the foreseeable future. In addition to that payment, you have to pay for maintenance costs such as getting the tires replaced, oil changed, getting the brakes replaced, etc. Every machine fails at some point and there’s hundreds of ways a car could fail. If your car breaks down or is damaged, you have to pay for towing costs. But the costs don’t stop there. You also have to pay for damage to your car that’s of no fault of your own such as as replacing the occasional window after your car has been broken into or backed into your car and fled the scene. But the costs of car ownership goes further than the physical components. You have to pay taxes for things like building new roads or repaving asphalt (because vehicles literally destroy asphalt over time, unlike walking or cycling). You have to pay for car insurance, insurance deductibles, licensing, toll road fees, titles fees, parking fees, registration fees, tickets, and of course gas. All for the privilege of being able to drive a car.
Accounting for all these financial costs, how many hours of your life do you spend working for the privilege of owning a car? It comes out to a substantial percentage. Did you know that the average person in the US spends 18% of their income on their vehicle? Therefore 0.18 * 12 months = 2.16 months. Therefore you work from January 1st through early March to paying for owning a car. Now think about all that time you spend commuting, waiting for repairs, or those countless hours being stuck in traffic. You’re not freeing up your time here.
Driving a car comes with serious risks like car accidents. Whether you accidentally hit another vehicle, or another vehicle hits you, the situation can be life-ending. Or you could accidentally hit a pedestrian, a motorcycle, a cyclist, a dog, or some other animal. In the US alone, more than 36,000 people died in a car accident last year. You also have to deal with other drivers acting like assholes. There’s road rage, aggressive driving, driving while intoxicated, general neglect and human error, distraction, and so on and so forth. In fact, this is one of the primary reasons why I personally do not like driving – not because other people are assholes, but the fact it turns me into an asshole as well. I’d argue that the majority, if not all humans that get behind the wheel are an asshole to one degree or another whether that’s abruptly cutting someone off, nearly causing an accident, or simply not be courteous and aware that other people use the road. Here you have the freedom of not only increasing the probability of expressing or being the recipient of road rage, you also increase your probability of death.
It saddening that most modern cities have built themselves and by shaped around the use of cars. The amount of real estate and land use that cars take up is astonishing. Consider the fast amount of parking space needed for a single strip mall alone, oftentimes accounting for more than 75% of land use. After traveling to various places throughout the US, it’s clear to me that cities are primarily designed to cater to cars and to be hostile to people on foot or on bike. Car culture is so ingrained into western society, that most people aren’t even consciously aware of it and oftentimes their car has become such an integral part of their lives and even their personalities. I’m not necessarily referring to “car enthusiasts” here, I’m referring to people that very much identify with their car, almost as if it’s an extension of themselves, and how much of their life is spent within a car, working to pay off a car, waiting for a car to be repaired, or the amount of time working to pay taxes to support car infrastructure. There’s also the perception that in order to be considered “successful” one must own a car.
I can see people reading this and thinking “well how the hell am I supposed to get my groceries?” Ride a fucking bike! Or why not walk? Oh, you moved into a suburb several miles from the grocery store? Great job, you played yourself. Your elderly or disabled? Maybe there’s some credibility there, but I’d be much more comfortable if someone else took you to your destination (ie public transit). Oh you live out in the country? You might have some valid reasons. Why did owning a car become a necessity when the majority of the world’s population get along just fine without one?
So that’s my take. I still drive a car because I’ve blindly designed my lifestyle that way and I’m working toward deconstructing it. If my car becomes totaled, I will opt to do redesign my lifestyle and go car-less, opting for cycling, public transit, and the occasional Uber. My view is that private car ownership makes you LESS free and that it ultimately needs to die (or become an obscure thing), but for now I’ll begrudgingly continue to own and drive a car.